Friday, December 17, 2010

Trapped In the Wild

Have you ever given any though to what it would be like to be alone in a remote place, trapped by a fallen tree or shifting boulder, unable to free yourself and too far into the backcountry to call for help?  Though most of us don't give this much thought when hiking, camping or paddling through wild areas, such unfortunate circumstances have befallen quite a few individuals in recent times - some who made it out alive and others who did not.  And one can only imagine how many such victims there have been in the course of human history when even more people traveled alone and in truly wild country.

This possibility was on my mind again the past two days as I received the finalized page lay-outs of my new book,  Could You Survive?: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Got Out Alive from my publisher and had to do a final read-through to make any last minute changes before it is sent off to be printed.  As it happens, this "trapped in the wild" scenario is the subject of the first chapter, the title of which is "Cutting Your Losses."    In this chapter I describe a situation in which you are pinned down by an immovable object, while hiking alone well off of a designated trail in a mountain wilderness area.  The only food you have are the items you carried in a day pack for a hike of a few hours.  You're too far from any road to get a cell phone signal.  You didn't tell anyone exactly where you were headed or when you expected to be back, and now your ankle is crushed under a massive boulder, leaving you exposed to the frigid night air with inadequate protection and barely enough water to last until the next day.  No one is coming for you, and no one is likely to find you by accident.  What would you do?  You have a multitool with several sharp blades in your daypack.  The only way to freedom is to cut off your leg at the knee.  Could you do it?  If not, death is certain, it's just a matter of time, and the vultures are already circling, awaiting their opportunity.

You've probably read of some of the individuals who had to make just such a choice - like Aron Ralston,who was rock climbing in a remote slot canyon when a boulder shifted and pinned his hand to the cliff wall.  Ralston ended up cutting off his own arm at the elbow to escape, and later wrote a book about the ordeal:  Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  Now several years later, his story is about to get much more widespread attention with the release of a new movie: 127 Hours  (see trailer below).

You might think that such nightmarish circumstances only befall dare-devil  adrenaline junkies like Ralston, who was obviously engaged in a high-risk activity to begin with and who foolishly told no one where he was going.

But consider what happened to Mike Turner, a 48-year-old, experienced backpacker who was hiking in a Wyoming wilderness area when a he was trapped by shifting rocks while crossing a boulder field.  After more than a week, in which he could not free himself, he died of exposure and dehydration and was not found until more than 2 weeks later.  Others have been trapped by fallen trees while cutting timber or firewood.  One whose story was on all the prime time new channels a few years ago was Donald Wyman, who had to cut his leg off at the knee and make a tourniquet from the starter cord of his chainsaw.  He then crawled to his bulldozer, drove it to his pickup, and then drove the truck to the nearest farm using a metal file to depress the clutch when he needed to shift gears. He knew it was either give up his lower leg and foot or die, and he made the choice with little hesitation.

Such a choice is not something anyone wants to contemplate for long.  The key to avoiding it is to turn up your awareness level to the max anytime you stray off the beaten path, and especially if you do so alone.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Watch Your Step

Another key element to safety when traveling alone in a wild, unfamiliar place is to know your environment.  Even if you don't know the area from first-hand experience, research at home before you go can turn up lots of good information and alert you to dangers you might not have known about without prior reading.  An example of this that I turned up in my research for this same chapter on getting trapped in the wild are the many tragic stories I read of people trapped in the mud flats of Alaska's tidal rivers.  Had they known the dangers, they would not have ventured out onto this treacherous silt that can hold a person's leg as surely as cement until the returning tide comes in to drown them under several feet of frigid seawater.

The conclusion to this is that in planning your bug-out locations or just recreational trips into places new to you, try to learn everything you possibly can about the local conditions there before you go.

Regarding the movie: 127 Hours, I have not seen it yet but I definitely plan to check it out. I remember first reading about Ralston's ordeal in Outside magazine right after it happened and thought then that it was an incredible story of survival.  Here's the trailer from YouTube:

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article. So much useful information here.

    Check out my survival blog:


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